Mariposa & Yosemite

National parks will dip into visitor fees to fund cleanup, staffing during shutdown, memo says

National parks like Yosemite could soon get relief from trash and human waste that has built up after workers were placed on furlough following a partial government shutdown.

According to a memo from the National Park Service, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, along with the National Park Service, have reached a possible solution: use park entrance, camping and parking fees to pay for the cleanup efforts.

The funds would normally be used for special projects at the parks, according to National Park Service Deputy Director Daniel Smith. But the move by the federal government has been prompted by the lapse in adequate staffing and “urgent needs” at the most highly-visited parks.

“After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly-visited parks during the lapse in appropriations,” Smith said in a news release Sunday. Smith called the decision “extraordinary.”

Though, this new order is already being criticized. Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum told The Washington Post on Sunday the move could likely violate the law. Some critics contend fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are designated for visitor services and not for basic maintenance operations, according to The Post. Some believe this move could drain park reserve funds.

“We are certainly going to be doing oversight as the acting secretary moves forward with this, and he will be hearing from me directly,” McCollum told The Post.

Thousands of park service workers have been placed on furlough as the government works out a deal to reopen the government. NPS Deputy Director Smith said the decision to fund park operations with visitor fees will provide more staffing at the parks that need it most. Although, the parks are not expected to fully open.

Smith said the funds will help “bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of the year.”

Thousands of Californians have flooded nearby parks, taking advantage of free entry through unmanned gates, and have mixed with still more international travelers. Some have created the trash and waste problem, while some have joined the local efforts underway to fix it.

The volume of park visitors during the government shutdown has combined with a lapse of security and monitoring. On Christmas Day, a man fell to his death into a river inside Yosemite. Information on that death was delayed, park officials said, due to the government shutdown. Overall, three people have died at national parks since the shutdown began.

President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders have attempted to reach a deal to reopen the government after it closed on Dec. 22. The shutdown was caused by a failure to reach a budget deal — largely due to disagreements over whether the federal government should fund a border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez
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